Sustainability and healthy diets – 01/07/2023 – Opinion

The message conveyed by the reconstruction measures of the socio-environmental policies of the Brazilian State is twofold. The first is that the country recognizes its historical debt with the peoples of the forest and with the maintenance of a heritage that provides services not only to Brazilians, but to humanity as a whole.

The second message is of crucial economic importance. The Brazilian territory that is home to the Amazon rainforest and the cerrado, the savannah with the greatest biodiversity on the planet, can no longer be considered an agricultural frontier to be explored. The economy of destroying nature cannot continue as a vector for an important part of agricultural expansion.

It is true that Brazilian agriculture has achieved gigantic gains in productivity and efficiency in recent decades and has overcome competitive processes that have placed it at the epicenter of the global agrifood system. Such gains, however, are marked by two problems that need to be faced.

The first is that the increase in productivity, both in agriculture and livestock, did not prevent these activities from continuing to advance towards territories that should be under protection.

This advance has much more patrimonial than productive motivation, but, over time, at least part of the devastated lands end up being occupied by agricultural activities. It is urgent to stop this occupation, and the recomposition of the Ministry of the Environment and Climate Change, in this direction, is essential.

The second problem linked to the performance of Brazilian agriculture is the much publicized myth that “agro is everything”. The country can no longer cultivate the illusion that it will feed the world. Meat forms the heart of the global agrifood system today, and Brazil plays a decisive role both in exports of animal proteins and grains for animal feed.

As much as this role results from competitive capacity, research and efficient animal health control, the most important products on the Brazilian agenda are part of diets that the world wants to transform.

Scientific journals, documents from multilateral organizations and more than one hundred food guides from different countries converge towards the need to increase the share of greens, vegetables and fruits —and decrease that of animal products in contemporary diets.

The risk of depending so deeply on products whose consumption is under strong challenge from the point of view of both the environment and public health is immense. But, it can be argued, developed countries are also major exporters of agricultural commodities. So much so that US agricultural exports are double those of Brazil. But they correspond to 7% of the total exported by the US, while in Brazil, 35% of everything the country sells comes from agriculture. And these sales are concentrated in a few products, some of which are aimed precisely at what is urgently needed to reduce consumption due to their socio-environmental impacts.

Facing this issue means investing seriously in the socio-environmental certification of Brazilian agricultural production, which will allow the country to export not the product of the destruction of its biodiversity, but, on the contrary, the result of methods capable of regenerating what has been devastated and of contributing to the fight against the climate crisis.

At the same time, it is essential to expand the diversity of what Brazilians eat, taking advantage of the richness not only of our different biomes, but also of our culinary traditions.

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